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Learning from Decay

Essays on the Aesthetics of Architectural Dereliction and Its Consumption

Max Ryynänen and Zoltan Somhegyi

Architectural decay as well as the reasons, effects, appearance and representation of ruination have always been important sources of understanding the state of our culture. The essays in this co-written book offer broad perspectives on the potential of ruins, on the use and appropriation of derelict architecture and on the aesthetics and also touristification of places by analysing a variety of phenomena in the range from classical to fake ruins, from historic city centres to hot dog stands, from debris to theme parks. The survey travels from Tallin through Venice and Istanbul to Beirut, discussing among others actual spaces, allegorical monuments and nostalgic aestheticisations of the past in high and popular culture, thus showing numerous inspiring opportunities of learning from decay.

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Shortcuts to Nostalgia?: On the Attempts of the Aestheticisation of the Past


Zoltán Somhegyi

Shortcuts to Nostalgia?: On the Attempts of the Aestheticisation of the Past

Abstract: How can the concept of nostalgia be helpful in understanding the functioning of various forms of architectural decay? In this chapter, the aesthetic effect of fake ruins in 18th-century landscape gardens and of derelict contemporary buildings are analysed, arguing that their appearance and representation forcefully try to evoke nostalgia that in the end will only be an unsuccessful attempt of aestheticisation of the past.

Keywords: nostalgia, fake ruins, landscape gardens, ruinous modern buildings, aestheticisation of the past

In an intriguing poem by Rudyard Kipling where he got inspired by the history of Britannia, we can find the sensitive representation of one of the most particular characteristics of nostalgia: i.e. that it can be imaginary. By this I mean not only that it can be directed to an imaginary land, period or state, but also that it can be the imagination of the possibility of nostalgia in the future. In the poem, titled: The Roman Centurion’s Song we read the sorrow of a Roman soldier of 300 AD Britain, who, after 40 years of service, is ordered back to Rome:

(…) I’ve served in Britain forty years, from Vectis to the Wall

I have none other home than this, nor any life at all.

Last night I did not understand, but, now the hour draws near

That calls me to...

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